In a shock move the ABC today sacked managing director Michelle Guthrie after the directors decided it was not in the public broadcaster’s best interests for her to continue to lead the organisation.
The former Google Asia-Pacific, Foxtel, BSkyB and Star TV executive was half way through her five-year term. Chairman Justin Milne said the Board believed after discussions over several months that new leadership would benefit the organisation, its employees and the ABC’s audiences.
David Anderson, currently director, entertainment and specialist, will serve as acting MD until a new appointment is made in the coming months.
In response, Guthrie said she is devastated by the Board’s decision to terminate her employment “despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part.” She said there is no justification for the Board to trigger the termination cause and she is considering her legal options.
During her tenure she trumpeted higher investment in innovative content, investigative journalism and regional journalism, defending the ABC’s independence and increasing efficiency across the ABC.
She made it clear she wanted to continue to oversee the ABC’s transformation. At no point had any issues been raised with her about the transformation, the Investing in Audiences strategy or her effectiveness in delivering that strategy, she added.
Milne said: “In resolving to seek fresh leadership, the Board’s foremost consideration was the long-term interests of our own people and the millions of Australians who engage with ABC content every week.
“This decision has been driven by our commitment to deliver the best possible outcomes for our loyal audiences and the best possible experience for our own people.
“We understand that transitions can be disruptive in the short-term. However the ABC is fortunate to have an experienced and capable executive team that will provide continuity in the months ahead.”
Guthrie had been at loggerheads with the government after slamming a vote by the Liberal Party’s federal council calling for the privatisation of the ABC, except for its regional services.
Addressing the Melbourne Press Club in June, she said the commercial sector would not welcome competition from a new advertising behemoth. Australians regard the ABC as one of the great national institutions and “deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests,” she said.
She was also critical of the government’s competitive neutrality inquiry into how the ABC and the SBS operate alongside their commercial counterparts.
And she rejected Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s suggestion that the ABC could easily accommodate the latest 1 per cent efficiency divided required by the government.
“It ignores the accumulation of efficiency cuts taken by Canberra over the past four years and the fact that these efficiencies rob the ABC of its ability to finance new content and innovation,” she said. “This whittling away of our funding represents a real opportunity cost and, in the end, serves only to punish those audiences.”
Fifield said today: “The government thanks Michelle Guthrie and acknowledges her service as managing director of the ABC for the past two and a half years in what is a challenging and rapidly changing media environment.”
He added that the Board appoints the MD and the government respects the duty and role of the Board in these matters.
Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner thanked Guthrie for her “dedicated engagement with our sector” and said he looks forward to continuing to work with the broadcaster and its management and Board.
Anderson, who will be responsible for broadcast television networks and associated services, radio music networks, podcasts and specialist radio content, said: “I recognise the challenges involved in transitions of this kind but I am honoured to accept the Board’s invitation and look forward to working with our outstanding people to execute our strategy.”